It started with trips to the local Value Village, which led to consignment shopping in New York City and vintage stores specializing in era-based fashion. Wearing my finds like trophies, my friends took notice and let me know of places I had to scope out. Last week, a friend told me about her favorite vintage store, Pretty Freedom.
She sent me a link to Pretty Freedom's Facebook page and said to check out its Weekly TOP 40. Every week, owners Helena Brown and Jodee Aguillon find, fix, photograph and catalogue new items on Pretty Freedom's Facebook page so that dedicated fans can shop (well actually, thrift) in the comfort of their own beds. And if you're a dedicated secondhand shopper like myself, this type of thrifting has yet to be seen for several reasons. It was clear that they were trying to bring a fresh and unique experience to thrift shopping. After further exploration and reading some of their witty blog posts, I contacted Helena and Jodee, and before I knew it, I was invited to join them on a Tuesday night to chat about Pretty Freedom and have a sneak peak at this week's TOP 40.
The minute I walked into the store, I knew it was different - very different. Unlike so many thrift stores that are packed to ceiling with merchandise, they treated theirs as a boutique. Everything was meticulously organized and it was refreshing to feel that it wouldn't take me several hours to browse through the merchandise. Seeing the store in person reaffirmed the reasons for my visit: I had to know the thought process and vision behind creating such a unique thrifting experience, one that is quite different from the several vintage stores sprinkled around Augusta and Kensington Market.
Friends Helena and Jodee met while working as managers at American Apparel. Already having the passion for fashion, it was here that they developed an appreciation and understanding of the fashion industry. One evening over cocktails, the two spoke of their dreams of owning their own store, and soon enough that dream became a reality when they opened the doors of their Augusta store. On the cusp of its two-year anniversary, Helena and Jodee were able to quickly propel Pretty Freedom beyond the competition. And after talking to them for a while, I realized it was not only their eye for fashion that kept them competitive, but the skills they developed in a competitive retail environment. Let me explain.
|The TOP 40 ready to be photographed.|
After seeing their window displays, I needed to know about the clothes. I was so impressed by how everything was so cohesive; it was if I was looking at a collection. I wasn't overwhelmed by a hodgepodge of different patterns and fabrics. I could tell that these two planned in advance for the different seasons. Helena reaffirmed the importance of having inventory as shopping secondhand is unpredictable. They set forth a clear vision that determined whether a woman's purple silk blouse has a place on the floor. In their minds, they had a vision they wanted to communicate, which keeps their clothing from being kitschy and costumey.
After falling in love with a gray winter jacket that was on display, I asked where they found their treasures. Fair enough, they refused to answer (even after some coaxing), as that would be giving their secrets away to the competition. However, they did tell me that they don't go to one place in particular, and their main concern is not quantity, but finding quality pieces. They don't care about designer labels. If it's ugly, there's no need for it on the floor. The potential of the garment (structure, fabric, shape and overall quality) is their only concern. And before any piece makes it to the floor, it is first inspected, cleaned and, if needed, repaired. With each piece being handled with such loving care, I would assume that it's difficult to not want to keep the pieces for themselves, and at first, they admitted that it was tempting. But now, they get joy from seeing their finds sparkling throughout the streets of Toronto.
No corner is left un-tounched,
Let me get back to the point of quality versus quantity. Many of my friends are envious of my thrifted finds, and the conversation usually goes something like this:
Friend: "Omg! I love your jacket. Where'd you get it?"
Me: "Value Village. It was five bucks!"
Friend: "Ugh! You always have the best luck. I have zero patience to look through everything."
That's right, these two tapped into the golden insight, that keeps people from the joy of secondhand - the overwhelming amount of merchandise. So instead of stuffing the sales rack with 100 pencil skirts, 20 are chosen to shine in the spotlight for a while, and the weekly TOP 40 is a smart way to do that. It brings the comfort of a retail experience into a secondhand shop which makes shopping at Pretty Freedom so pleasant. I will bet my vintage purple United Colors of Benetton wool blazer that even the pickiest shopper will walk out with something.
Helena and Jodee didn't open a store just because it would just be fun to work around clothes all day. It is obvious that they are dedicated to success of their store, their love child. Their commitment keeps the store honest. They don't care to blend in with the surroundings, as they strive to be themselves. It's the late Tuesday nights preparing and carefully photographing clothing for the TOP 40. It's a promise of steering away from clothing that is considered "ironic", as they won't sell a piece that they don't completely agree with. It's being completely unique by not mimicking the pages of fashion magazines, but rather, being inspired by the streets and the people. Oh yeah, and their mothers' closets.
A makeshift studio helps them capture
At the end of the interview I asked them to describe their styles. Helena felt she represented a Golden Girls meets J.Crew vibe, while Jodee took his time and summarized his as a Joey Lawrence meets Uncle Jesse aura. Having fun, Jodee spoke up, "Actually, I'd say your [Helena] style is more Gwyneth Paltrow visiting Martha Stewart's home," which made me laugh because it was dead accurate. Helena was rocking a casual preppy chic vibe. We also felt that Jodee was less Jesse and more electric pirate meets hobo chic. It's that type of playful imagination that makes their store so fantastic. They aren't trying to recreate a look; they're trying to help you discover yours. So if you ever find yourself at Kensington, take a quick turn to Augusta and visit my friends at Pretty Freedom for a very different and incredible shopping experience.
165 Augusta Avenue
Kensington Market, Toronto, ON, Canada
Hours: 12PM-6PM: Monday - Sunday
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